Monday :: Oct 10, 2005

Treasongate: Lewis Libby and Judith Miller


by eriposte

This weekend I decided to shift my sights back to Treasongate (from Miersmania) and I was sifting through some of the news from last week relating to Judith Miller and Lewis Libby's testimony. I discovered something that struck me as being rather important. It relates to the issue of whether Libby and/or Miller knew about Valerie Plame/Wilson and that she worked at the CIA -- before they talked in July 2003. This apsect is discussed in this post, which is broken up into a few sections.

1. Apparent testimony of Lewis Libby to grand jury regarding his knowledge of Valerie Plame/Wilson

2. Apparent testimony of Judith Miller to grand jury relating to her conversations with Lewis Libby regarding Joseph Wilson and his wife

3. Lewis Libby's mysterious letter to Judith Miller

4. Miller's lawyer's letter to Libby and his lawyer

5. Preliminary Conclusions


1. Apparent testimony of Lewis Libby to grand jury regarding his knowledge of Valerie Plame/Wilson

Let's start with the apparent testimony of Lewis Libby to the grand jury. Here's a report in the Washington Post on 9/30/05 (via Needlenose), with bold text being my emphasis:

According to a source familiar with Libby's account of his conversations with Miller in July 2003, the subject of Wilson's wife came up on two occasions. In the first, on July 8, Miller met with Libby to interview him about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the source said.

At that time, she asked him why Wilson had been chosen to investigate questions Cheney had posed about whether Iraq tried to buy uranium in the African nation of Niger. Libby, the source familiar with his account said, told her that the White House was working with the CIA to find out more about Wilson's trip and how he was selected.

Libby told Miller he heard that Wilson's wife had something to do with sending him but he did not know who she was or where she worked, the source said.

Libby had a second conversation with Miller on July 12 or July 13, the source said, in which he said he had learned that Wilson's wife had a role in sending him on the trip and that she worked for the CIA. Libby never knew Plame's name or that she was a covert operative, the source said.

There are several points of interest here, all of which merely reflect the tip of the iceberg.

(a) The first question that jumped to my mind:

How is it even possible that the Vice President's Chief of Staff knew that Mrs. Wilson had something to do with Joseph Wilson's trip, but didn't know anything else about her including her name?

After all, wingnuttia was agog with (misplaced) glee upon the revelation that one could find Wilson's wife's name ("Valerie Plame") by merely looking at Who's Who (this is also how Bob Novak claimed he found her name). If Mr. Libby (or Karl Rove for that matter) and the Bush administration want people to believe that they couldn't do a 2-minute database search, online search, or Who's Who lookup or make a quick phone call to one of their employees (or have Tenet make the call) to find out the name of Wilson's wife, then, they should know that this is an innately unbelievable assertion that does not pass the smell test. So, as far as I am concerned, the claim that they heard about Mrs. Wilson but didn't know her name (within say 10 minutes or so after they heard the term Wilson's wife from someone) is a clear lie and is indicative of a deliberate intent to pretend that they lacked knowledge about her while they were calculatedly outing her.

(b) A second, related question:

How is it possible for Libby to have heard that Wilson's wife had something to do with Joseph Wilson's trip, but didn't know that she worked for the CIA?

The point is this: if someone had heard that Wilson's wife had something to do with Wilson's trip, then it is impossible for them to have not heard that Wilson's wife was in the CIA since the only way they could have gotten to know about Wilson's wife was by either reading memos mentioning her (and her CIA position) in the context of Wilson's trip, or talking an insider (CIA or INR) who knew her, or hearing second hand from someone who had read a memo. It doesn't pass the smell test to suggest that someone just started some rumor or speculation about Wilson's wife having had something to do with Wilson's trip without having a clue that she was in the CIA. Moreover, individuals of totally unknown backgrounds (i.e., unrelated to the CIA or the CIA/White House leadership) would not have the power to (supposedly) influence who gets sent by the CIA on trips involving serious national security issues. So, again, this claim by Libby (or anyone else in the Bush administration) is actually reflective of a pre-conceived fake cover story for their scandalous plan to out Valerie Plame.

(c) Swopa at Needlenose says:

If this is what Libby has told the grand jury, he'd better be figuring out an exercise plan designed to make an orange jumpsuit look flattering. By admitting (through his lawyer the Post's anonymous source) that he was trying to get information from the CIA -- and then passed the details on to Miller -- he's provided all the circumstantial evidence needed to convict himself of leaking classified information.

Unless, of course -- and I'm guessing that this is the case -- he's promoting the Theory of Immaculate Dissemination, in which he learned about Joseph Wilson's wife not from the CIA but via some magical third party whose identity he sadly can't seem to remember anymore. Or if the spiel being presented in the Post is entirely fictional, having been concocted for the purpose of convincing Miller that Libby didn't accuse her of leaking Plame's identity -- when, in fact, that's exactly what he did in front of the grand jury.

Swopa is getting to the heart of the matter, but I will reserve my comments on this aspect until I get to Section 3.

(d) A final point, from this New York Times article (password required; bold text is my emphasis):

One Libby associate has given details about his testimony in two grand jury appearances.

Mr. Libby has said he spoke with Mr. Cheney on July 12, six days after Mr. Wilson's article.

Mr. Libby said he told Mr. Cheney that reporters had been pressing the vice president's office for more details about who sent Mr. Wilson to Africa. The two men spoke when Mr. Cheney was on a trip to Norfolk, Va., for the commissioning of the carrier Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Libby said Mr. Cheney directed him to refer reporters to Mr. Tenet's statement, which said that the C.I.A. had been behind Mr. Wilson's selection for the trip.

After talking with Mr. Cheney, Mr. Libby has said, he spoke with reporters, including Ms. Miller. He told her that the vice president had not sent Mr. Wilson to Africa. Mr. Libby also spoke to Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, who has written, ''Libby told me Cheney had not been responsible for Wilson's trip.''

In his conversation with Ms. Miller, Mr. Libby added another detail. He said that he had heard reports that Mr. Wilson's wife had something to do with sending him on the trip. But he has said he did not know her name or position at the agency.

I will return to the topic of Cheney's involvement hopefully in a future post, but it should be noted that Cheney was involved in the campaign to trash Joseph Wilson (and possibly his wife), as Mr. Wilson has alleged.

2. Apparent testimony of Judith Miller to grand jury relating to her conversations with Lewis Libby regarding Joseph Wilson and his wife

The ostensible grand jury testimony of Judith Miller was mentioned in the Washington Post (via Needlenose) and appeared to closely mirror Libby's testimony. Key excerpts (bold text is my emphasis):

Sources familiar with Miller's testimony say her account of two discussions with Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, that July are similar to the account Libby reportedly gave the grand jury last year. Both said they spoke about Plame's husband, administration critic and former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, on July 8 and again on July 12 or 13. On at least one of those occasions, Libby told Miller that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, the sources said.

This sketchy account seems to be consistent with the sketchy account of Libby's testimony discussed in Section 1 above. I discuss in Section 3 below the implications of her testimony.

3. Lewis Libby's mysterious letter to Judith Miller

There have been many speculations and comments about Lewis Libby's rather interesting letter written to Judith Miller in which he encouraged her to testify. However, I think that the significance of the most important part of the letter has probably not been discussed or elucidated clearly, especially in light of Miller's and Libby's grand jury testimony. The person who perhaps comes closest to addressing the significance of the passage is question is emptywheel at The Next Hurrah. Here is the relevant passage from Libby's letter to Miller (with bold text being my emphasis):

As noted above, my lawyer confirmed my waiver to other reporters in just the way he did with your lawyer. Why? Because, as I am sure will not be news to you, the public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me, or knew about her before our call.

As emptywheel explains:

Update: kainah points out below that I misread Libby's passage. He's saying the public reports of all his conversations with journalists either indicate that Plame did not come up at all OR Plame came up because the journalist (Cooper, for example) already knew of Plame's identity.

I agree with this interpretation. Now, if you juxtapose this with the fact that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was not aware of the contents of this letter until after Miller's grand jury testimony (it was only published alongside an article in the NY Times after Judith Miller had testified), one can see why this letter may have gotten Miller (and/or Libby) into some trouble with Fitzgerald.

After all, the implication of the letter is that since the issue of Wilson's wife came up in the conversations between Libby and Miller, then per Libby, Miller was aware of Mrs. Wilson's role in the Joseph Wilson trip before their call/conversation. Thus, if Libby was telling the truth in his letter (there's ample reason to think he may not be), then he seems to be saying that Miller knew about Valerie Plame/Wilson before their call - because, after all, they spoke about Mrs. Wilson on both calls and specifically about Mrs. Wilson's CIA identity in the second call.

So, the question is this: Did Miller admit in her grand jury testimony that she had asked Libby whether Valerie Wilson worked in the CIA and had a role in sending her husband to Niger? Or, did she say that she first heard of Valerie Wilson through Lewis Libby. If she said the latter, and Fitzgerald subsequently saw Libby's letter to Miller published by the NYT, then one can easily imagine Fitzgerald calling Miller back for an explanation.

I am going to withhold further commentary on this until more information becomes public, but suffice it to say that this to me is may have been one of the triggers for Judith Miller Take 2 with Patrick Fitzgerald.

P.S. There's also the "aspens turn in clusters" mention in Libby's letter. It also has some significance, in my view.

4. Miller's lawyer's letter to Libby and his lawyer

The other damaging aspect of Libby's letter to Miller and Libby's lawyer's (Joseph Tate's) letter to Patrick Fitzgerald is the rebuttal by Miller's lawyer (Floyd Abrams) - attached at the end of this NYT document collection. Abrams letter makes it clear that he felt that both Tate and Libby were not being entirely truthful in their respective letters. It is also possible that Abrams' letter to Tate made some impression on Fitzgerald. I am not going to type up the relevant portions here (its a bit long) - so I would encourage readers to just read the whole exchange here.

5. Preliminary Conclusions

One can summarize the gist of this post as follows:

  • Libby's claim that he heard that Wilson's wife played a role in Joseph Wilson's trip, but that he did not (initially) know her name or occupation, is implausible and reflects a convenient, fake cover story.
  • Libby has confirmed that Dick Cheney had some involvement in the campaign to trash Joseph Wilson (and possibly his wife)
  • Libby's strange letter to Judith Miller reflects that he was clearly implying that Miller knew about Valerie Wilson prior to their having talked. It is unclear whether this is true or not. The public appearance of this letter and its implication may have had a role in Miller's sudden discovery of additional notes from a June 2003 meeting with Libby and her newly scheduled meeting with Fitzgerald tomorrow.
  • Miller's lawyer's letter to Libby's lawyer indicates that both Libby and his lawyer were not telling the whole truth in their respective letters.
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